Abdullah Alshammari reflects on sensational surprise victory at World Pool Championship

Saudi Arabia football season for ever is ready.

With the eyes of the world on the kingdom following last summer’s revolutionary transfer move, we witnessed Al-Hilal in ever-winning form, Al-Nassr icon Cristiano Ronaldo showing off his evergreen skills and much more.

Here, Arab News dissects the highs and lows of an unforgettable 2023-24:

Best team: Al-Hilal

Al-Hilal not only produced the strongest campaign in Saudi Arabia, but also one of the greatest in football history.

Their numbers were staggering. Returning Jorge Jesus orchestrated a clean sweep at home in the Saudi Super Cup, Saudi Roshn League and King’s Cup; world record 34 consecutive victories in all competitions; he won 31 of 34 matches in the top leagues, scored 101 goals and conceded only 23.

They had to be so good that they repeatedly let down the best player in 2023-24.

Best player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Al-Nassr)

Ronaldo was supreme, even with the injection of world-class talent.

Last night’s game against long-time champions Al-Ittihad – a distinctly famous one – set a new benchmark for RSL’s season goals with 35. Only Al-Ahli’s Riyad Mahrez (13) and compatriot Ruben Neves (12) bettered their 11 assists.

Moments of unsurpassed quality and insatiable desire highlighted the 39-year-old’s relentless ability to defy the waning effects of time, particularly November’s senseless strike against Al-Okhdood. There was even a chance to collect four RSL balls for a hat-trick.

Best Saudi player: Saud Abdulhamid (Al-Hilal)

Saud Abdulhamid deserved to be at the top of this prestigious list because he sparked a trademark “chair” celebration in April’s heated King’s Cup semi-final against childhood club Al-Ittihad, not to mention his mighty performance in the 2023 season -24.

The ever-present 24-year-old right-back looked at ease among a new star-studded line-up. A career-best three league goals also equaled his haul from all previous campaigns.

Links with Ligue 1 side Toulouse offered a tantalizing glimpse of a global future for the defender, who eclipsed fellow illustrious Salem Al-Dawsari and Al-Ahli striker Firas Al-Buraikan’s 19-goal haul.

Best coach: Pericles Chamusca (Al-Taawoun)

It takes something special to outshine Al-Hilal’s Jesus.

Pericles Chamusca brought this to the dark horses of Al-Taawoun. The gregarious Brazilian defied a flurry of summer departures led by assistant Kaku and versatile Saudi Arabia defender Hassan Kadesh, as well as the winter sale of influential Spanish midfielder Alvaro Medrano.

Amid this whirlwind, fourth place – five points ahead of fallen giants Al-Ittihad – secured qualification for the second AFC Champions League. With his head held high, he leaves for the ambitious Yelo League team NEOM SC.

Best goal: Bernard Mensah (Al-Tai 1-4 Al-Ahli)

Take your pick from Bernard Mensah’s monumental campaign at relegated Al-Tai.

February’s George Weah-esque run from deep through several Al-Ahli defenders and a pinpoint low finish past Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy is only beaten by May’s logic-defying slalom run through a packed box against Al-Fateh.

Best signing: Aleksandar Mitrović (Al-Hilal)

An addition that was worth the wait.

Al-Hilal have been negotiating with Fulham all summer for their towering Serbian centre-forward. That pressure was rewarded with 40 goals in 43 games, including an early introduction to the Copa del Rey final, a hat-trick in September’s symbolic 4-3 win at holders Al-Ittihad and December’s 3-0 Riyadh derby triumph against Al – Nassr.

This prized goal-orientation and tireless nature, which cannot be quantified, helped Mitrovic surpass team-mates Malcom and Neves, as well as Marcel Brozovic of Al-Nassr, Franck Kessie of Al-Ahli and Fashion Sakal of Al-Fayha.

Worst signing: Habib Diallo (Al-Shabab)

A season to forget for eighth-placed Al-Shabab was illustrated by Diallo’s travails.

The recruit from Strasbourg scored only six times in 30 league outings, and between the second and third goals he went through an almost five-month goal drought.

That central contribution from the Senegalese striker was downgraded by then-England captain Jordan Henderson’s brief stay at Ettifaq and the early end to the Brazilian megastar’s heartbreaking campaign.

The biggest disappointment (Neymar – Al-Hilal)

Events on the other side of the world reverberated in the Kingdom.

Neymar’s catastrophic knee injury in October while on 2026 World Cup qualifying duty for Brazil severely curtailed his Al-Hilal duties. It dissipated the immense excitement generated by August’s epic unveiling in Riyadh, upon his arrival from Paris Saint-Germain.

The independent Brazilian striker has played just three games for RSL, scoring their only win in the AFC Champions League. There should be many more in 2024-25.

A season to forget: Al-Ittihad

Things may be looking up for Al-Ittihad after RSL’s dismal title defence.

The quantum leap was heralded as the addition of Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, French midfielder N’Golo Kante and Brazilian leader Fabinho followed the end of a 14-year wait for a Premier League trophy. RSL’s winning manager, Nuno Espirito Santo, however, left in October with his weakened team in sixth place.

Wanted replacement Marcelo Gallardo then scored a one-sided 3-1 win over Egypt’s Al-Ahly in December’s Club World Cup quarter-final in Jeddah, with the trophyless side limping home fifth – 42 points behind Al-Hilal – and out of the AFC. Elite qualification for the Champions League. An interrupted campaign saw Benzema score just 16 times in 33 outings.

Funniest moment: celebrating the survival of Noureddin Zekri

A bemused Sadio Mane came close with a hilarious pre-match double-take after seeing the mirror image of club-mate Ali Lajami’s twin Qassem in Al-Fateh’s line-up.

But nothing beats Noureddine Zekri’s iconic response to keep debutant Al-Okhdood upright. The 59-year-old manager went viral with a slow run down the pitch and a “superman” flop at the final whistle of the relegation-deciding match in Week 34 for doomed Al-Tai.

View: (Al-Qadsiah)

The Saudi Aramco-owned club is expected to make a big splash in 2024-25.

Reigning league winners Yelo Al-Qadsiah underlined their anticipation status last month when they beat Roma to sign Uruguayan midfielder Nahitan Nandez, with plenty more to come.

Judging by the first impressions, a repeat of Al-Ahli’s promotion to third place is not out of the question. Their recent yo-yo outfit reputation needs to be cut.

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